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5 Epiphany - Matthew 5:13-20

The law that Jesus came not to abolish but to fulfill was God's word to overwhelmed people.

They were wandering about forty years in the wilderness, which happens to nations and

to generations of rescued, displaced slaves.

Joy and relief are mixed with fear and anxiety and the lingering PTSD from Pharaoh's Egypt, so God holds their shaking hand and looks into their wet eyes and says, "We're not going

back there.


Life will be different now.


You have dignity, and so does your neighbor, and we're going to build a new nation on

new principles, on righteousness and justice and mercy.

Other nations will notice and be drawn to your shining light.

You will be different, special, one of a kind; you will be holy.

And here's how we're going to do it..."


Like so many human stories, what came of this was a mixture of healing and success and relapse.There was triumph and conflict and palace intrigue and abuse of power.

The warnings of prophets were mocked and ignored.

The nation was conquered and its power brokers captured and carted off to a foreign land.

Another generation passed, and some stayed abroad, but others held on to the promise of the land that Moses saw from his mountaintop so many years before.

When they finally returned home, the old place was a ghost town, a shell of what it used to be.They began to rebuild, and Ezra read the entire law to tell the people, "We're not going

back there.


Life will be different now.


We must follow these rules this time, and don't let your children marry foreigners

because that's how the specialness, the holiness gets compromised.

Pray, fast, and worship correctly, and then God will bless us."

But the great national comeback faltered and the economy stagnated and organized religion floundered and the rich blamed the poor and the poor blamed the rich ... it happens. So Isaiah the prophet came to speak God's word to overwhelmed people.


Five centuries later, it was Jesus' turn.


The roll call of the strangely blessed at the start of his sermon demonstrates that he was

speaking God's restoring word to overwhelmed people.

Roman rule was heavy, and so was the endless checklist of religious requirements from the

faithful but uptight scribes and Pharisees, God's hyper conscientious bureaucrats.

Injustice and corruption can slide, but parking violations will not be tolerated.

You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel! is how Jesus put it to them.

Their version of the word of God didn't feel much different than the regulations of Rome or the impossible whims of Pharaoh. So Jesus looks into the crowd of wearied faces with burdened eyes and says, Blessed are the overwhelmed and the overmatched.

Blessed are you.


You are the salt of the earth and the light of the world.


Today the details are different, but the story is the same.

Life is too overwhelming for too many of us—family conflict, political dysfunction,

deadly diagnoses, legal strangleholds, discriminations, information overload, economic

death by a thousand cuts all poked by marketers promising happiness for a reasonable